Townships like to say they’re the government closest to the people, but few people compete to get elected to township positions.
In both Whiteside and Lee counties, more than 90 percent of those positions are without contests in the April 9 election.
That’s less competition than the last township election, which was 4 years ago. Then, 77 percent of township positions in Lee County and 88 percent in Whiteside County were uncontested.
This year, 21 of 170 township offices attracted no candidates at all in Lee County. In Whiteside County, 12 positions drew no candidates, including seven of 13 assessor positions.
In Lee County’s Nelson Township, no one is running for clerk or road commissioner. Four trustee positions are open, but only three people are on the ballot.
Each township has a supervisor, clerk, road commissioner and four trustees. Some have their own assessors, while others share that position with neighboring townships.
Lee and Whiteside counties each have 22 townships, which have three mandatory functions – maintaining roads, assessing values of properties for taxation, and providing general assistance to the poor.
Townships are known for their stability; officials often stay for decades.
Among all township officials, the road commissioner is the most likely to face competition.
In Lee and Whiteside counties, no road commissioner is facing as many opponents as Jim Bushman, who has four challengers. He has been commissioner for the last dozen years in Palmyra Township, which is along state Route 2 in far western Lee County.
The Palmyra road district maintains more than 50 miles of roads, many of which are in subdivisions, Bushman said.
When it snows, he said, “everyone wants to be plowed first.”
“We get to people as quickly as we can,” said Bushman, 66. “If everyone was first, where would you start? I thought we did a fairly good job this winter.”
The other candidates are Derrick Storey, Mike Belcher, Matt Hazelwood and Scott Lawrence.
Lawrence, 55, said he was running because someone new was needed.
“I have a lot of experience in roadwork, doing that for 30 years,” he said.
The other candidates could not be reached for comment.
A couple of the candidates work full-time jobs, Bushman said, so they would be limited in what they could do for the township.
“I don’t get full-time pay, but I work as a full-time road commissioner,” said Bushman, who makes about $30,000 a year.
Sterling Supervisor Matt Howze, who leads the biggest township in Whiteside and Lee counties, has no opponent for re-election to a second 4-year term.
In Dixon Township, Doug Farster, who also started in 2009, is facing Ed Fritts, a former Lee County Board member. Fritts, who was the supervisor of South Dixon Township for a decade, now lives in Dixon.
Farster said his township has been “frugal” with its money, saying it has a small number of employees.
“We’re saving money and being creative,” he said. “Our roads are in excellent condition.”
For his first 2 years, Farster worked only 20 to 24 hours a week for a $56,000 salary. That’s because he worked for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for more than $75,000 a year. Since his retirement, he has worked full time for the township.
Some have questioned the arrangement, saying that Farster should have worked full time for a job that paid $56,000 a year.
However, Farster said he remained responsive to citizens’ concerns when he worked part time.
Fritts, who cites his experience in township government, said he would work full time if he wins, but he declined to comment on Farster’s situation, saying the voters would judge.
In Sterling Township, Road Commissioner Jim Lopez, 77, is facing challenger Dana Stutzke.
Lopez has been the road commissioner for the last dozen years and has worked for the road district since 1969.
He makes about $44,000 a year, plus an annual $22,910 pension from his previous years of service with the township.
“We try to maintain the roads to make sure they’re safe,” he said. “I’ve seen it all. I’ve done it all. We started out with old equipment. I appreciate what we have now. We don’t take it for granted. We keep it maintained all the time and make sure it’s working right. We have a good crew.
“I think the public has been happy with what we are doing,” he said. “We very rarely get complaints.”
Stutzke, 44, said he is running because it’s time for a change. He said his experience in construction and as owner of Stutzke Excavating qualified him to be commissioner.
His business got nearly $26,000 in business from the township in 2012. He said his business is phasing out.
“It’s going to be pretty soon that I’ll be getting out of the excavating business,” Stutzke said.
In Dixon Township, Road Commissioner Roger Bowers is facing Eric Long.
Bowers, 59, has 34 years in the road district. He has been the road commissioner for more than 3 years.
“I know what it takes to run this place,” he said. “We do all of our own work. I’m quite familiar with everything that goes on here. I bring a lot of experience to this job. I have a good crew working for me.”
Long couldn’t be reached for comment.